The global plastic crisis has led to a range of environmental and public health concerns that disproportionately impact chronically disenfranchised communities and exploited nations. From the growing number of microplastics that infiltrate our soil and hydrological cycle to the overwhelming presence of large plastic materials in wildlife habitats, the harmful effects of over-consumption and capitalist production are far-reaching and increasingly difficult to prevent and mitigate. Waste inequity — or the ways in which the compounded effects of waste-related public policy, city planning, and structural violence result in unjust harms, hazards, and suffering — further exacerbates these problems and as the threat of COVID-19 continues to change the way we interact with one another and handle our affairs, another serious threat demands our immediate attention: the Post-COVID Plexiglass Crisis.
While plexiglass is just another type of plastic, and trends related to the sudden surge in its usage could be thought of as belonging to the overarching plastic crisis, its unique relationship to COVID-19 must be explicitly addressed. Additionally, plexiglass is one of the most difficult types of plastic to safely and efficiently recycle so it’s important to highlight its unique presence in the plastics recycling market and landscape. Within the context of the global pandemic, business is booming.
Marker reported that “plastic distributors are struggling to get their hands on plexiglass sheets that they in turn supply to local businesses” due to their high demand from multiple industries. And that demand has been met in schools, houses of worship, restaurants, and countless other spaces during the pandemic. Unfortunately, plans for mitigating the inevitable harms from the plexiglass overload are few and far between.
Now is the time for cities to invest in research, training, and education to come up with equitable solutions for managing plexiglass waste. Before the threat of COVID is behind us. Global waste inequity traps billions of people in toxic communities with poisoned water, land, and air and people with the power to fund harm reduction initiatives at the intersection of public health and plastic pollution must act now before the crisis spirals out of control.
From the creation of safe, environmentally-friendly alternatives to plexiglass to the development of more plastic recycling centers operated by specialists who can address this issue before it truly begins, the possibilities are endless. City budgets must prioritize equitable waste management to tackle existing waste inequity problems and prepare for future crises…like the one that awaits when thousands of businesses and organizations around the world must decide what to do with their endless stacks of plexiglass.